Friday night I was sane enough, or perhaps only tired enough, to not try to drive to Milwaukee after working at EFRC; I opted to sleep Friday night. . I wasn't prepared to get up at 4 AM, so I missed the tour of the Rembrandt exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Instead, I headed to Milwaukee Saturday at noon, and met my good friend Art WINOLJ and janmagic who had joined him for the day at the museum for dinner at one of our favorite Milwaukee restaurants, the Old Town Serbian Gourmet house. I guess they are now called "European Gourmet House", since Serbian is a bad word nowadays, but the menu is the same. birder2 says that several of the dishes are very much like her mother's Austrian cooking, so while they may well eat exactly this food in Serbia it's certainly not exclusively Serbian. The cuisine is not highly spiced, but it is well seasoned, subtle, but not bland, and I have not tasted a dish there that wasn't yummy. I went with the Chicken Paprikash, and even though it was a little greasy (somehow I got a fair bit of fat that should have been skimmed off in the sauce on my plate), it was still quite tasty. I got to sample Art's stuffed zucchini, and while I wouldn't really have wanted a whole plate of that, it was good. Jan got a special that the waiter referred to as a "carnivore plate": roast lamb, roast suckling pig, stuffed veal breast, and duck. The waiter brought it out and I asked if she really imagined she could eat all that. I didn't think I could. She ended up sharing samples of each meat with us, and she didn't clean up all the side dishes, but she did a fair job on the plate, and still had room for streudel. Real streudel, with real phyllo dough; it's like an apple or cherry baklava, not a coffee cake. A little harder to eat than the average dessert -- you need a knife to cut it -- but quite tasty. As we finished our meal, a trio of musicians (fiddle, guitar, and double bass) started circulating through the tables. They were not world class, but they were good. Jan gave the fiddler -- who'd been playing all day and was suffering for it -- a hand massage; the fiddler commented that she should tip us.
The live music at the restaurant did make us late for the main event: a house concert by the Bittersweet Christmas Band at the premier house concert venue of the filk world, Barisha's Basement. The Bittersweet Christmas Band is the Chicago folk trio Cooper, Nelson, and Early, plus Phil Cooper's partner, filker Susan Urban. We came in during their second song, and whoever it was started the patter before the next song told us we were early: they knew that no matter when they started, someone would show up during the third song, so they'd started on time. Phil Cooper is a stunning guitarist; he has several solo albums showcasing his guitar arrangements of Celtic (and some other European) dance music, and the only guitarist I can compare him to is the beyond-description Chris Newman. Phil's not quite that good, but few people would refuse to listen to Schubert because he wasn't quite as good as Mozart. Phil's also a credible tenor, and Margaret Nelson and Kate Early have lovely voices and do great harmony. As a trio, they have a rackful of albums to their credit. Susan Urban has been to enough Midwest conventions that she's a familiar filker; she has a powerful voice but not a sweet one, and a rougher style; she doesn't mesh quite perfectly with the other three (perhaps because all four only perform together one month out of the year), but they certainly work together credibly well. The Bittersweet Christmas Band plays a repertoire of holiday-related music, some of it standard, more of it unusual, some of it sweet but none of it schmaltzy, much of it playing on two themes: sad stories connected with the holidays, and real meaning of the holidays hidden behind the forced jolliness and commercialism of modern Christmas. I was somewhat distressed that the crowd was quite small (Barisha's basement isn't that big, and there were still seats available). They talked about making it an annual tradition of playing Barisha's Basement; if they keep doing the Bittersweet thing, I think it could easily become a real sacrifice in terms of the bigger gig they could have in that slot. They are already popular enough that they couldn't stay for the filk after the concert because they had a live radio gig at 10 the next morning back in Chicago. We had a small filk, featuring Art, Deirdre, anach, beige_alert, Emory, and myself. It was a low-key filk, but pleasant, and I managed, at least as far as I recall, to avoid any really terrible performance gaffes.
After spending the night at Art's, I spent the afternoon at Valley of the Kings, where I briefly visited most of the cats I know there, quickly ran out of chicken legs, and took some pictures. I then hung around and helped a bit around the place (hopefully managing to be more help than in the way); the main accomplishment of my tenure was helping with removing a window air conditioner from the food prep room and covering the whole window with foam board insulation, a blanket, and a sheet of plywood to hold it together. That window is now more airtight and rather better insulated than the wall it's in. In the course of following Chris around and occasionally being able to actually do something, I got to see some bits of VOTK that aren't on display to tour groups; it was pretty interesting. VOTK is smaller than EFRC and all-volunteer; it's a bit more ad-hoc, duct-tape-and-baling-wire, but the people working there do really care about the animals.